Companies from Amazon to Airbus are talking about using drones to deliver packages, but Workhorse Group is actually doing it, on a small scale, at least. The company has teamed up with the Federal Aviation Administration and the city of Loveland, Ohio for a drone delivery pilot program.
Residents of Loveland (near Cincinnati) can opt into the program and have their packages delivered by drone. The drones are summoned using a dedicated app connected to “existing online ecommerce platforms,” a Workhorse press release said, although the company did not name any specific retailers. Customers can also use the app to set a delivery location, monitor the progress of a delivery, and receive a photograph as confirmation once the package is dropped off.
The Workhorse HorseFly drones used in the pilot program are octocopters with carbon fiber construction, autonomous GPS navigation capability, and infrared cameras used for landing. A HorseFly can deliver a 10-pound package, fly at a top speed of 50 mph, and stay airborne for 30 minutes at a time, according to Workhorse.
Drones will launch from Workhorse delivery vans as part of a so-called “last mile” delivery system. Having drones do some of the work will save money, said Workhorse, which expects the HorseFly to cost just 3 cents per mile to operate. Drones will launch off the back of a van’s roof and return after dropping off their packages to recharge. Remote observers will monitor video feed of each deliver to judge effectiveness and safety. Drones must also remain in line of sight at all times.
This isn’t the first time Workhorse has tested drone delivery. Last year, the company teamed up with UPS for a small-scale test. A HorseFly successfully delivered a package from the roof of a UPS delivery van in Lithia, Florida. The test served as an important proof of concept, but Workhorse is expecting more insight from its Ohio pilot project.
“Data from the pilot program will provide essential insights into consumer preferences, as well as real-world evidence to support expanded use cases of drone delivery with the FAA,” Workhorse said. It could be a major step toward Workhorse commercializing drone delivery, if other companies don’t do it first.